Covid indicators continue to improve in Europe

The main coronavirus indicators have continued to improve across Europe, even though individual countries use different strategies to confront the spread of the pandemic.

In the week till September 17, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said that there were nearly 380,000 laboratory-confirmed Covid cases in the 30-nation European Economic Area (EEA), which includes 27 countries that make up the European Union, plus Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein, Xinhua news agency reported.

That is the sixth consecutive week that the weekly figure dropped.

The EEA’s weekly total cases are far below the 2021 peak of more than 1.1 million new cases recorded from March 28 to April 3, and the all-time peak of more than 1.4 million new cases in November 2020.

That improvement has come despite wide variations in the vaccination rate among EEA states.

Less than half of adult populations in Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, and Romania are fully vaccinated, while in Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, and Portugal the equivalent rate is above 85 per cent each, according to data from the ECDC.

Health rules against the pandemic also differ significantly from each other.

Last week, Italy, became the first European country to require the “green pass” for health for all workers in both public and private sectors, which will become effective in mid-October. The “green pass” shows proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus, or a recent negative coronavirus test.

Lithuania passed only slightly less restrictive measures, requiring the country’s “opportunity pass” for anyone to access any shops selling non-essential products, beauty salons, or gyms.

Slovenia also unveiled similar measures, requiring proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus, or a negative test to dine in restaurants, visit most non-essential shops, or attend public events.

France, meanwhile, which has recorded nearly 7 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, more than any other country in the EEA, said it will maintain its current coronavirus health restrictions despite a reduction in cases since recent peaks a month ago.

The Netherlands recently announced it would drop mandatory 1.5-metre social distancing rules, which will be effective from September 25.

Sweden, meanwhile, said it will lift most coronavirus health restrictions at the end of this month, though it will continue to urge those showing symptoms of the disease to stay at home.

Neighbouring Finland said this month it would stop testing vaccinated residents for the coronavirus and lift restrictions completely once 80 per cent of the population aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated.

Till date, about 57 per cent of the country’s population were fully vaccinated in Finland.

And in Malta, the government announced last week that most citizens returning to the country from high-risk areas can quarantine at home rather than in specially designated hotels.

Britain, which is not part of the EEA, this week outlined a multi-part plan that would see health restrictions loosened in the fall and winter unless there is a new spike in infections strong enough to put the health system under “unsustainable pressure”.

If that happens, stricter rules involving mandatory mask use and heightened testing and isolation rules, would enter into effect.